County Road Q

Benjamin Morris

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            The pond’s shoreline where Glen stands is muddy and slick with green and white goose shit. He watches a dozen geese paddle through the dark water, but Glen is thinking pheasant. The blind he and his son, Andrew, started building on the eastern slope of the pond is nearly finished. Glen doesn’t like leaving things incomplete. It wasn’t how he was raised.
            The summer’s record rainfall delayed his planting and forced the harvesting team into long hours. The Scribner Granary, too, was behind getting already sold corn out of their bins.  Andrew is working extra hours there now with the other half of Glen’s team, the Mohler brothers. Despite being needed at the granary, Glen decided to stay back and ready for his hunters. And if he doesn’t finish the blind soon, he knows his clientele will gladly go to other private wetlands, to other owners who are ready and prepared for the season. Glen hates to think of the dollars he will miss if he isn’t prepared.
            Glen gathers brush to hide the rusted sheet of metal for the blind’s hood. He feels winter in the smell of cold soil and smoke. He removes his worn Huskers hat and runs a hand through straw-thin black hair. He hates to think of aging. He considers his parents in the cemetery five miles up the road. Maybe he’ll plant some tulip bulbs before the ground freezes. He can’t remember when he was up there last, can’t put a finger on why he thinks of them now. He imagines their gravestones, bare except for the balding stems of summer flowers Linda put out back in June. His wife is better at stuff like that—keeping the family in mind, in contact, and together. Glen keeps his immediate family close. He believes it’s enough.
            Glen walks half a mile of pasture to his acreage, harvested bare. The sun slips behind clouds and rain warms the soil beneath him. Empty cornhusks stick to the bottom of his boots. He kneels and puts a hand to the ground. It is dusk and the horizon opens up with the color of a wound. Glen squints, and his vision tunnels to the size of a shot glass bottom, as he pans across the high plains. Trees and deer stands running along his property lines fall away. Grids of telephone pole and wire disappear. Glen watches the shifting light around him. There is a wrestling in his ribcage. It isn’t pleasure, or sadness. Something buried inside him is cleaned off, a part of him he can’t talk about with Linda. And he believes Andrew shares this thing with him, but also keeps it to himself.
            Through thin sheets of rain, Glen sees combines laboring for miles, casting their wide skeletal shadow across the landscape of the forever dead. He watches the hay bales slip from gold to black, the sky a ripening bruise. He notices a cloud of dust and the shape of a truck speeding along County Road Q, heading his way. He believes it’s Andrew finished early. Glen starts for home.  
            Linda walks the two family Labs out past the property line and into the thin patch of woods. She gathers kindling and occasionally tosses a piece for the dogs to fetch. A V of geese honk and fly overhead. Then it is quiet. Linda knows Andrew will be home late from the granary and that Glen will work into the dark when he can’t even see his own muddy boots. The rain was bad this year, and she spent the summer listening Glen and Andrew groan most mornings. They sounded so much alike when they didn’t get what they wanted. Sometimes it made Linda want to laugh, and other times it worried her.
            She kept it inside, but Linda thought Glen kept Andrew too close. And it only left her with quick glimpses of what being connected to her son could be like if Glen gave her the chance. These were supposed to be the years when Andrew could carve out his own territory in life. Glen’s father hadn’t given him much of a choice, and Linda had no intention of letting it happen to Andrew. She knows tonight isn’t the night to bring up the cemetery markers, but they needed cleaning.
            Linda gets caught in the rain, so she cuts back to a sheltering cluster of Burch trees. The dogs pant at her side. There’s no lightning yet, and Linda listens to the rain beat through the leaves. In winter the tree trunks glow like ghosts at night, and their spindly branches will reach out into the cold air and have nothing to touch. 
            Andrew hears Ted and Terry Mohler exit the granary laughing, hears their trucks pull out onto the main road. He knows they’re heading for the The Moose and that he’ll see them there later, sitting on their same stools at the end of the bar. They’ll buy him a beer and a shot to celebrate the week’s work. Andrew knows his father worries about his drinking, and likes to share “the good stuff” with him at home—by the fireplace or outside in the garage with a pack of cigarettes—where he knows his son is safe and not driving around . They’ll pull the filters off and smile. They’ll swear not to tell mom. Glasses will touch, son and father will nod. The ritual of the thing. He looks forward to finishing the blind with his father. Enjoys working outside in the cold, moving around the foggy morning with purpose.
            The granary is five stories high and Andrew has walked down the grain many times without a harness. It’s a safety thing, but nobody, including Andrew’s father, pays much attention to it. He watches the screw-shaped auger turn the grain down through the chute. It’s orderly and smooth in operation. Then there is a metallic wheeze. The auger jams and the whir of the machine’s gears fills the granary. He jabs at the grain. It doesn’t budge. His body shudders. His hands turn slick with sweat. A cold knot, one that he’s carried all his life, coils in his belly.
            The same feeling happens when he screws up in front of the team on job sites. Andrew at work; too hungover to pound a nail straight, or mark proper measurements. His vision will darken to a pinpoint, and to keep his jawline from shaking, he’ll put his coffee thermos to his mouth and pretend to drink. But it doesn’t always work. And Andrew knows everyone sees him and he knows that some, including his father, feel sorry for him. He hates the attention. Andrew is happier working alone like this.
            Now Andrew strikes again at the shifting grain. There’s an air pocket. It gives a little, and a small hole opens. More grain spills down and covers his ankles. Then at once it all breaks free. Andrew immediately knows what is happening. He drops the shovel and claws wildly at the sides of the bin. Something grips his left boot and keeps him still in place. Andrew moves down into the grain, and he reaches up. It gathers around his thighs. His arms grow into thin stalks above his head. His brain fires wildly: a snapshot of his mother walking the dogs, his father standing around the pond, the Mohler brothers, empty shot glasses along the bar. Outside the wind drives through black rain, unknowing. Andrew is thinking pheasant.

     
 
   
     
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Ben Morris earned his MFA in fiction from UNLV and is currently at work on a PhD in literature at the University of North Dakota. His work has appeared in Lake Effect, Red Clay Review, Rusty Typer, Plots with Guns, and The Blue Bear Review. He also serves as the fiction editor for Floodwall Magazine.